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Baltimore City and County youth sports coaches look to take measured approach to return

The return of youth sports in Baltimore City and Baltimore County is currently still on hold.
The return of youth sports in Baltimore City and Baltimore County is currently still on hold. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore City and Baltimore County youth sports organizations are taking a cautious approach to the state’s go-ahead to resume activities.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced on Wednesday that youth sports can resume for “low-contact” outdoor practices in limited groups as well as the outdoor activities of youth camps with groups no larger than 10 people, effective Friday at 5 p.m.

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“Though we continue to make great progress toward recovery, COVID-19 is still very much a deadly threat, and our responsible behavior is absolutely critical in the continued efforts to defeat it,” said Governor Hogan. “Thankfully, the vast majority of our citizens clearly understand that while doing things like avoiding crowds, practicing distancing, and wearing masks may be inconvenient, that these are some of the best tools we have to continue to slow the spread of this virus, and to put us in a position to rebuild and restore our economy, and to finally defeat this invisible enemy.”

Hogan, however, said that the ability to reopen is at the discretion of each county.

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Baltimore City hasn’t relaxed guidelines that have closed playgrounds, basketball and tennis courts and other outdoor exercise equipment. And the city is still limiting gatherings to no more than 10.

“We are continuing to review data and the Governors’ recent order and hope to announce our plans for our programs and services soon,” said Baltimore City Recreation and Parks Public Relations Officer Whitney Clemmons Brown.

Baltimore Terps President Kwesi Ehoize said it is difficult for his program that offers football and lacrosse for children in Baltimore to move forward until the guidelines are relaxed. He said the main goal is still to protect the health of the players and parents.

“I think that if you talk to 10 different coaches, you might get 10 different answers,” Ehoize said. “I can only speak for our organization. At this point right now, I’m still not comfortable with opening back up for a couple of reasons. One is always of course having the children’s safety in mind, as well as the safety of the parents and all of the spectators and the like. Even though Governor Hogan opened up, the CDC and the National Parks and Recreation Association has some pretty strict guidelines as to how to go about that.”

Ehoize has been taking calls from parents and thinking through all possible scenarios to get kids back on the field for the Baltimore Terps youth sports league he founded in 2012. He knows young people are desperate for the outlet, but he’s got two main dilemmas: the challenge of keeping them safe from contracting the new coronavirus and the cost of putting on a program their parents can afford when many have lost hours, or even jobs.

“What does that look like if COVID-19 gets into your program and come to find out someone’s grandparent dies, or father dies or a child dies?” Ehoize said.

The program’s lacrosse tournament should be happening now, but they couldn’t even start the season.

“The lockdown came on a Friday and we were supposed to start lacrosse on Monday. It was a complete wash,” Ehoize said.

Football workouts were scheduled to start in late June, if the calendar wasn’t thrown out the window because of COVID. The program expected to have 300 to 500 people out on the fields.

“I don’t know what to tell the coaches, what to tell the parents,” he said. “I am hesitant to launch a football season this year. Parents tell me their kids are bouncing off the walls, but a lot would be extremely cautious and tell me their child wouldn’t participate.”

City baseball coach Mark Miazga usually helps with youth camps and Little League teams around Baltimore. With the pandemic at hand, he isn’t expecting to assist his friends with their programs this summer. He says before the city and other areas can return to play, they must trust the science and facts before making any decisions.

“That directive just came through and it didn’t really impact me specifically because I’m just thinking about my seniors and I’m trying to make this video of them right now,” said Miazga. “I haven’t been thinking about the youth leagues during the summer just yet to be honest. I hope that we’re using the scientists and health officials to direct our decisions. It does not seem safe to me to have kids at a practice, but that’s just me.”

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Prior to Gov. Hogan’s decision to lift certain restrictions, Baltimore County’s government considered a proposal on May 21 to prohibit youth sports until at least Dec. 31.

Baltimore County, which has the third-highest rates of transmission of COVID-19 in the state, has yet to make a decision on the proposal.

“Baltimore County has made no final determinations regarding the status of recreational sports for the rest of the 2020,” said Baltimore County Executive Press Secretary Sean Naron. “The County remains in ongoing communication with rec council leaders and is exploring every option to offer safe, creative, and flexible sports programming.”

“This obviously is an item of interest among thousands of families in Baltimore County from all walks of life that would be negatively affected by his proposal," said Jeanni Lewis, who is a parent of a youth sports player. “Not to mention the loss of funds for these sports leagues and teams would essentially put them out of business, leaving no sports for the youth of Baltimore County. This also disproportionately affects inner city youth since most do not have the financial means to travel outside the county to participate in sports.”

Joppa’s Kyna Shaw has made it a priority to protect the safety of her children.

“I personally will wait until there is a vaccine,” Shaw said. “I’m a cancer survivor and I’m in the high risk group for fatality if I catch COVID-19. So, I need to be extra cautious so that I’m here for my children.”

Baltimore County Councilman Julian E. Jones, who represents the Fourth District, said the proposal was to make sure that children in the community stay safe. “That was it, 100% — protecting the children and their families and trying to limit the spread of the virus,” Jones said.

Concordia Prep football coach Josh Ward usually holds a football camp during the summer. Until Maryland enters into “Phase 2” of its reopening plan, Ward doesn’t expect camps on the campus or any others in Baltimore County to open.

“I know just from restrictions, we won’t be having any camps on our campus at least until Phase 2 and then, even at that point, we aren’t sure if we’re having any camps,” said Ward. “The earliest that we would have them is July, but for scheduling purposes, it’s tough. You’re seeing it in colleges with recruiting and they are delaying their camps.

“Now, the NCAA pushed it to July 31 and they’ve pretty much cancelled their camps. So, we’re to be determined right now — I don’t see us having camps, which is unfortunate for the kids, but until Governor Hogan gets us into Phase 2, we can’t even discuss.”

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